Our Classics

Our classics: 2004 Mini Cooper S

by Alisdair Suttie
14 March 2023 11 min read
Our classics: 2004 Mini Cooper S
Photos: Alisdair Suttie

Al Suttie is a freelance motoring journalist. He’s been testing cars and perusing press packs for more than 25 years for title such as What Car?, The Daily Express, and the Telegraph. When it came to buying a classic, naturally he ignored all his own advice and bought one without seeing or driving it. Scroll down to follow his journey.

At the wheel: Al Suttie
Owned since: March 2019
Current condition: Original
Hands-on or hands-off? On, though very lightly

How much is your car to insure? Find out in four easy steps.
Get a quote

18 May, 2021: Welcome to my Mini Cooper S

Company cars are wonderful things, right up to the point where you suddenly don’t have one and need a car pronto. That was the situation my wife, faced in early in 2019. The original ideal was to replace her company Volvo XC60 with something similar on a personal lease deal. Yet, the more we looked at costs versus mileage, which was much reduced with Mrs S’s new job and the reason for the company wheels evaporating, the more it seemed we’d be paying a small fortune for the neighbours to look at a shiny new car parked on our driveway.

Ever the opportunist, I suggested something a little more fun that might gently accrue in value rather than chew through our money like a Labrador at the biscuit tin. For the price of a deposit on the lease of a mid-size SUV, we looked at what was available for around £3500. It had to have four seats, so we could carry the kids, look good and not take up too much space on our tightly packed driveway. This is when the first generation of BMW-built Mini Cooper S entered into the picture.

I’ve always been a fan ever since testing these cars when they were new and my wife has happy memories of her Mum’s Cooper version – a model that has been highlighted by Hagerty as a Future Classic. The hunt was on and it quickly became apparent there were plenty to choose from, though many were high milers or had been subject to dubious modifications. Then, an advert popped up for a 58,000-mile, 2004 car in Electric Blue with a white roof and bonnet stripes. It had a half-leather interior, bulging history file, and was at the other end of the country.

Our classics: 2004 Mini Cooper S

A long conversation with the owner proved he was as fastidious as me about maintenance and we settled on a provisional £3250 price after a friend in London had looked it over. One day later, the call came that all was tickety-boo and that, if I didn’t buy the car, my friend would. Deal sealed.

Living in Scotland can add to the logistics of buying a car, but in this case my London-based brother was happy to scoot up in the car and dovetail it with a few days’ holiday. When the car arrived, it was every bit as tidy as the photos suggested and drove exactly as I remembered from my days ragging – I mean reviewing – new cars.

With daily driving in mind, I treated the car to a full service within the first week of it arriving. This included all fluids and consumables, and my regular local mechanic declared it very sound. The only thing I added to the list of work was a new coolant expansion bottle, which any Mini owner can tell you is prone to cracks and leaks. This turned out to be a good move as it was just on the cusp of letting go.

Since the car arrived, it’s been used as daily transport by my wife, spent lockdown in 2020 not going very far, and I use it at weekends to get my hot hatch fix. It’s a hoot to drive and has only had routine servicing, though that has included a supercharger service, which we can talk over in a future running report.

The only upgrade has been to add a DAB adaptor so the kids can torture my ears with Capital and I can get my revenge with Radio 4 Extra. It’s also useful for hands-free phone use, and it was simple to install and hide the receiver and wiring.

For the price of a lease car deposit, we now have a chirpy modern classic hot hatch. To my mind, that’s a much better deal. Let me know if you’ve ever done something similar.

12 July, 2021: Prevention is better than cure

Alisdair Suttie Mini Cooper S long-term report

What’s the best kind of maintenance? Preventative maintenance, that’s what, although a car that never needed any would be friendlier to my wallet. With the Mini Cooper S due its MoT and annual service, it was time to tackle one of the jobs particular to this model: the supercharger service.

With only 65,000 miles on the clock from new, and a yearly mileage of around 5000, it could be argued the Cooper S would last out a long time before the supercharger needed any work. After all, the accepted wisdom is the compressor has a service at 100,000 miles. However, at 17-years old, I wanted it checked and sorted as a precaution to make sure the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder motor carries on delivering the smooth, punchy performance it does so well.

Servicing the supercharger is well within the scope of the home mechanic, but with no garage space and the MoT due during a very chilly March, I took the easy route. A check on the usual Mini forums promptly pointed me in the direction of Mini specialist B&M Centre in Glasgow, and it was booked in for an MoT, service and the supercharger work.

Mini Cooper S supercharger service cost
The supercharger service on Suttie’s Cooper S cost less than £900, including an MOT

There’s a fair bit of stripping to get at the supercharger, though the service itself if straightforward. The main thing is to replace the oil within the supercharger, and there are two reservoirs to drain and refill. Even though the amount of oil is very small, it’s vital to the smooth running of the supercharger.

Fortunately, B&M reported no problems here, but one of the plastic coolant pipes cracked during reassembly, which took a couple of days to arrive as this was still during the lockdown period. However, still with my preventative mindset, better that a brittle pipe showed itself now than later while driving.

The rest of the car was pronounced fit and healthy, and it breezed through the MoT. All in, the bill came to just shy of £900, which is good value in my book for the amount of time a supercharger service requires and the other work done. The only other thing B&M sorted was a replacement key for the one of the originals that is falling apart. This is a pukka BMW-supplied key that is then coded to the car. All in, that was another £180.

A much cheaper bit of preventative work I tackled myself was the fuel cap sealing ring. It’s another known weak point with Minis that can throw up engine fault codes as the seal breaks and allows air to leak into the fuel tank. An online order produced a swift replacement in the post from Mr O-ring. It took less than a minute to remove the old one and fit the new, which for £5.99 is not a lot to pay for long-term peace of mind.

Sadly, there’s no prevention from other people’s poor parking and carelessness, which has resulted in some scuffs and scratches on the Cooper S. There are small paint rashes on all four corners and one quite deep scratch where the bonnet meets the front A-panel. These will require a professional’s touch, so I’m now looking into either a local bodyshop or mobile paint repairer. Given the Mini’s metallic Electric Blue paint, I suspect getting a good match might be tricky, so any suggestions on this front would be very welcome.

The good thing is, the Mini feels fitter than ever after its recent work and continues to dish up loads of fun while not costing a fortune to run. If you’re running one, or have any questions, drop me a note, in the comments below.

07 January, 2022: Bodge job by a local garage

Mini Cooper S replacement key

It was encouraging to see the R50 generation Mini warrant a place in the Hagerty Bull Market report the other week. [What do you mean you haven’t seen it yet? Hit the link to get up to speed. Ed.] It certainly makes it easier to justify the occasional expense on a modern classic when you feel it’s a car that’s being appreciated more and more in car enthusiast circles.

That was certainly the case recently when I took it to a Sunday morning breakfast meet for the Bo’ness Revival Hillclimb. The Mini sat proudly among the various cars from the 1930s through to the 1990s, providing a Noughties book end to the car park. Sadly, torrential rain prevented me from grabbing a picture, but this sort of casual meet-up is a sign things are ticking over in the classic scene during the winter months.

On a more practical note, the new key that I mentioned in the previous report took a little more sorting than I’d anticipated. There was no issue with the key starting the car or unlocking the doors when inserted into the locks. However, the remote function flatly refused to work, even after I tried many times to programme it to the car. A call to Mini specialist B&M in Glasgow revealed the problem was the car had reached its limit of the number of keys paired to it. As I write, the Mini is due with B&M for its annual service and MoT, so they will unpair the old and damaged key and replace it with the new one. Don’t you just love technology?

A simple fix I did manage was to replace the rear wiper blade. This was changed when I did the front blades around 18 months ago, yet the front pair were in perfect condition while the rear was falling apart, as you can see in the picture. A trip to Halfords produced the right Bosch blade and it was a 10 second job to swap old for new in the car park.

While changing the rear wiper, I also took the time to go over all of the exterior glass with a bit of Rain-X. There are many similar glass treatments available, but I’ve found this one to be the most effective and I’ve been using it for years on all of my cars. It makes a noticeable difference in how clean the windscreen remains during the winter and dispels water efficiently. I also found it cured the squeaky action of the Mini’s wipers when I fitted the new front blades, which was a cheap way to maintain my sanity instead of listening to that uniquely distracting sound with every sweep of the wipers.

Living with a Mini Cooper S

A job I meant to tackle myself was replacing the front right ABS sensor, which had failed and was throwing up a warning light on the dash. A combination of circumstances meant I passed on this job to a local garage, and I really wish I hadn’t. After telling the mechanic what the fault was and even supplying the replacement part, he still made a pig’s ear of it. I appreciate nobody likes to be told how to do their job, but his own code scanner pointed to the front right ABS sensor.

It was only a couple of days after picking up the car and topping up the washer fluid I noticed the mechanic had simply shoved the sensor’s connector up inside the wheelarch liner. He’d even added insult to injury by fixing it in place with a cable tie when there is a dedicated holder for the connector. Given the half-baked nature of this work, I won’t be using this garage again and can’t even be bothered to let them try to rectify the mistake due their shoddy work. This will get sorted during the service, which should be a simple one and see the Mini Cooper S ready for another year of hot hatch smiles.

If there’s a lesson in here somewhere, it’s stick to a tried and trusted local garage or specialist.

15 February, 2022: The bonnet that won’t budge

Al Suttie Mini Cooper S

Anyone that knows me will confirm I’m much more of a ‘drive it in any conditions’ classic owner than a show ‘n’ shine enthusiast. Nothing wrong with keeping your car in perfect condition, but it’s just not possible when using my Mini Cooper S on a daily basis, all year round. Even so, the accumulated filth on the car’s paintwork had me breaking out the jet wash and suds the other day in a rare spell between rain and freezing temperatures.

With the Mini washed, rinsed and buffed, it looked a good deal happier, so I thought I would do a quick fluids check before it headed off for the annual service and MoT. This is when I discovered the bonnet release lever would not fulfil its advertised purpose. Not amount of tugging on the lever would budge the bonnet, though luckily I could hear the mechanism trying to work. This is when having children comes in handy as my son was employed to pull the lever while I lifted the bonnet and pulled the release catch.

Al Suttie Mini Cooper S bonnet release

It was clear the latch under the bonnet was a little grimy, so I cleaned it and re-greased it with some light grease I normally use for my bicycle’s axles. Unfortunately, this did not cure the problem and opening the bonnet was now a two-person job. With the son and heir employed once again, we popped the bonnet, topped up the washer fluid, checked the oil, coolant and brake levels, and that was it.

A couple of days later, the car was dropped off at B&M in Glasgow for the necessary work. They quickly adjusted the bonnet release cable to take up a little slack caused by it stretching over time, and the only other fix needed was to clear some sludge out of the front window washer jets. The car then sailed through the MoT and was given a clean bill of health for another year’s driving.

While at the garage, they also sorted out the bodge inflicted by a local outfit on the brake’s ABS sensor connector. It’s now properly located and routed, with the mechanic commenting that it must have taken more time and effort to do the job badly than it would have taken to complete it as it should be.

B&M has also suggested a bodyshop to tidy up the Mini. The paint itself is in good shape, but the bumpers have a couple of scuffs and the original white stripes are well past their best. Applying new stripes is a potential DIY job, but I am enough of a fusspot to want them exactly where the old ones are, so having it done professionally makes sense to me. At the same time, the paint scrapes can be sorted and the Mini will be back to its best. The only danger then is I might have to keep it clean all of the time…

14 March, 2023: Time for new tyres, before a track day for my 13-year old son

Living with a Mini Cooper S
The Mini was cleaned in the last year – honest… Photo: Alisdair Suttie

Blimey, it’s been a year since I last wrote about my Mini Cooper S. Two simple reasons for the lack of updates are the car has not needed anything sorted recently and, although I’ve been driving it, the mileage has gone up by a modest 4000 miles over the past year. However, they have been four thousand extremely enjoyable miles as the car still entertains on every drive with its performance and handling. And every year that goes by, the Mini feels that bit more compact on the road compared to the current SUVs and crossovers that tower over it.

Mention of the MoT brings me back to reality as the Mini did need a couple of items addressing. The first was attention for its rear brake discs and pads, which were getting close to the end of their useful life. Changing those wasn’t too much of an expense, but a test fail on emissions had my pulse rate nudging round the rev counter.

After some investigation, the problem turned out to the nothing more sinister than a catalytic convertor that was no longer converting as it should. Given this was the original cat still on the car from when it was new, according to the mechanic, that’s pretty good going. An OEM replacement came in at £260 plus fitting, so that’s what I went with based on the original surviving for 19 years. I did dabble with the idea of a sports cat and exhaust upgrade, but when the car is used for daily driving as well as weekend fun, I didn’t want to risk introducing a wearing drone to the exhaust note.

Other points noted during the MoT were an oil leak, some corrosion on the front crossmember and a front coil spring, plus a rusty brake pipe. The garage that carried out the yearly service and took it down the road for the car’s MOT test said none of these were issues to worry about and more to do with a picky tester. I still asked them to check these bits and they were given a clean bill of health.

The only other point raised during the annual test were the tyres, which I knew were reaching the end of the road. They are still well within age, but the tread was getting low. On occasion, the front tyres had been losing traction under hard acceleration, so it was clear the jig was up. A new set of Bridgestone Potenzas have been suggested as a good complement to the car by other Cooper S owners, but I’d be interested to hear what others think. A balance of good handling, wet and dry grip, refinement, and wear are my priorities.

Previously, I haven’t used the Mini on any track days as I have my hillclimb car for that, but as my son is due to turn 13 soon, he’ll be able to drive at some junior track days. I’m keen for him to get behind the wheel and learn in complete safety, so new, good-quality tyres are a must. His birthday is in May, so I’ll update you by then about how he gets on with driving the Cooper S.


Mini fan? Bookmark this page as Al w̶i̶l̶l̶ may(!) regularly report on his Mini Cooper S.

Read more

Our classics: 1996 Subaru Impreza Turbo
Our Classics: 1994 Mazda RX-7
Buying Guide: Mini Cooper (1961-1971)

You may also like

Your Classics: Paul Wylde's Truly Titchy TiCi Kit Car
Your Classics: Paul Wylde's Truly Titchy TiCi Kit Car
Ad Break: The Renault Sport Clio 172 Subtracted Weight and Added Fun
Ad Break: The Renault Sport Clio 172 Subtracted Weight and Added Fun
60 Years Later, Paddy Hopkirk’s 1964 Monte Carlo Rally Win Is Still the Greatest Racing Underdog Story
60 Years Later, Paddy Hopkirk’s 1964 Monte Carlo Rally Win Is Still the Greatest Racing Underdog Story
A story about

Your biweekly dose of car news from Hagerty in your inbox


  • Brian Walley says:

    Love the article that Mr Suttie has written about his Minni Cooper s 2004.

  • Gwendolyn Y Morgan says:

    Looking to buy a mini Cooper real soon

  • Michael Davey says:

    I stumbled across your interesting read about the R50 Cooper S I bought mine back in August 2020 and loved it from the minute I set eye’s on it. I am now on my 3rd still owning my 1st I’ve gone Arthur Daley mad buying and selling used Mini’s and of course getting to drive loads of different one’s from the R53/52/50/one I’m having such a good time at the moment…😁Happy Days🙆😉

  • Pete says:

    Fantastic! I was looking to finance a new MINI last year, and ended up paying cash for an R53 Cooper S instead. It’s sat quietly through most of COVID but weekend blasts are very special. Am just about to replace the original coolant reservoir which has split. Hope you keep updating your R53 adventures

  • David Sprott says:

    Good read and I’ve also used B&M in Glasgow for some work on mine. Very nice guys that know their stuff. I’ll be booking it in with them for an oil change soon.
    I bought mine from the original owner in May last year and drove down to Milton Keynes to pick it up. We had been looking on and off for a while for a good low mileage one. My wife and I had bought a Cooper new in 2002 & a Cooper S in 2004. I said at the time the Cooper S was a keeper as you do but typically sold it on and after several years of sensible family cars we hankered after another one.
    We also had the supercharger serviced and the other usual bits and bobs and had a good set of Bridgestone Potenza Sport tyres fitted. My son and I then drove it around the NC500 in September which was superb.
    We are loving it and at 20 years old it still puts a smile on our faces the same way they did when we had our brand new ones back in the day.

  • Michael Froedge says:

    My sister just gave me a mini s 6 speed it had been sitting for 4 years when I arrived to load it on trailer I then realized that there are people in this country that are more stupid than I thought of course cat had been cut that’s ok I’ll just add a peice of pipe then opened the door low and behold some one had took screwdriver and hammer to the key switch so I just ordered a steering column with key and fob I no I’ll have to. Program key in in the states is that going to be very expensive because I’ve still got a lot to do since it’s been sitting car is in great shape so I’m guessing since she gave it to me for my birthday that it will. Be worth it My sister parked it because she said it had a electrical problem doors would lock and not open but I have been reading and by getting a steering column and ignition switch may just fix that problem love your story Mike from Kentucky

  • Adam says:

    Good to read the experience of another R53 Mini owner. I love driving mine (it’s our second car to a family-friendly SUV) and although I’ve spent a fortune maintaining it, like you, it’s been preventative. Please keep the updates coming!

  • Trevor Brimson says:

    I too am a mini fan, when I bought mine I just wanted a little runaround and thought what small cars do I like and it was the mini.I bought mine from a dealer,it had been extensively modified and was putting out about 200 bhp,the brakes and suspension had been upgraded,it was basically up to works spec but without the ridiculous prices people want for them,I love it,it’s a real driver’s car.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic
Hagerty Newsletter
Get your weekly dose of car news from Hagerty UK in your inbox

Thanks for signing up!

Your request will be handled as soon as possible